They are Nervous About the Army

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The debate in the Duma on the interpellation of the Social-Democrats and Trudoviks concerning the tsarist government’s violation of Article 96 of the fundamental laws is not over yet. But it has already given such a picture of the state of affairs and the papers have made such a noise about Stolypin’s notorious “declaration of March 31” that it will be quite in place to dwell upon this instructive episode in the history of the June 3 regime.

Our group in the Duma was quite right in interpellating the government about its violation of Article 96 of the fundamental laws and in speaking to such an extent as if “in defence” of law, “in defence of justice”, “in defence of June 3 legality”, and so on and so forth. We say “to such an extent” because here the Social-Democrats unquestionably undertook a complicated task requiring able handling; they were undoubtedly wielding a double-edged weapon which with the slightest mistake or even awkward usage might wound the bearer. To speak without metaphors, it might imperceptibly lead the Social-Democrats astray from the policy of class struggle to the policy of liberalism.

The Social-Democrats would have made such a mistake if they had spoken purely and simply of “defending” these fundamental laws, without explaining the special character of this “defence”. They would have made an even greater mistake had they turned the defence of the fundamental laws or legality in general into some sort of slogan such as “fight for legality”—that would have been in the style of the Cadets.

Fortunately, our comrades in the Duma did neither the one nor the other. The first speaker on the interpellation, Gegechkori, opened expressly, with an explanation of the special character of the Social-Democratic defence of the fundamental laws. Gegechkori began most aptly with the denunciatory speech of Count Bobrinsky at the Congress of the United Nobility, who with a more than broad hint at the Social-Democrats clamoured for the “removal of these trouble makers from the precincts of the State Duma”. “I declare,” replied Gegechkori, “that in spite of the denunciation, in spite of violence and threats, the group sitting within these walls will not swerve one jot from its declared aims and objects of defending the interests of the working class.”

Bobrinsky called upon the government to eject from the Duma those who are systematically agitating against June 3 legality. Gegechkori opened with a declaration that neither violence nor threats can make the Social-Democrats give up their activities.

Gegechkori laid special stress on the following point: “We, of course, are concerned less than anybody else with upholding the prestige of the Third State Duma, if it has such a thing ...” “it was we, opponents in principle of the existing political order, who protested whenever the forces of reaction sought to curtail the rights of the popular representative assembly in their own interest ...” “when open encroachments are being made on the fundamental laws, we, the opponents in principle of these fundamental laws, are obliged to take them under our protection”. And at the conclusion of his speech, dissociating himself from those who make a fetish of legality, Gegechkori said: “If we make this interpellation, if we enter into digressions or into the field of juridical interpretations it is only for the purpose of ex posing once again the hypocrisy of the government” (p. 1988 of the verbatim report)....

Gegechkori voiced the consistently democratic, republican views of the socialists when he said: “our laws will correspond to the interests and requirements of the mass of the population only when they are dictated by the direct will of the people”, and the “clamour from the right” noted in this part of the verbatim report emphasised that the shaft had gone home.

Another Social-Democratic speaker, Comrade Pokrovsky, spoke even more clearly and definitely in his speech, refer ring to the political significance of the interpellation: “Let them (the Octobrists) do this directly and openly. Let them frankly accept the slogan of the Rights: ‘Down with the right of the popular representative assembly, long live the ministerial antechamber!’ There is no doubt that the majority is working to bring about a time in Russia when constitutional illusions will completely vanish, leaving a black reality from which the Russian people will draw the appropriate conclusions” (quoted from the report in Rech, April 1).

This treatment of the whole question based on exposing the hypocrisy of the government and the Octobrists and on destroying constitutional illusions is the only correct Social-Democratic way of presenting the interpellation on the violation of Article 96 of the fundamental laws in the Third Duma. In connection with the proceedings in the Duma this is the aspect that must be brought to the fore in our Party agitation, at labour meetings, in our study circles and groups, and, finally, in private conversations with workers who do not belong to any organisation. We must explain the role of the workers’ party, which is exposing a bourgeois Black-Hundred fraud inside the bourgeois Black-Hundred Duma itself. Inasmuch as it was not possible in such a Duma to treat the question with complete clarity or to state in full detail the revolutionary Social-Democratic point of view, it is our duty to amplify what our comrades said from the tribune of the Taurida Palace and popularise their speeches, so that the masses can understand and appreciate them.

What is the gist of the history of the violation of Article 96? This article occurs in Chapter Nine “on laws” and specifies the exceptions from the general rule, cases when the ordinances and instructions of the military and naval departments are submitted directly to the tsar without passing through the State Duma and the Council of State.[1] New expenditure requires grants approved by the State Duma, that is the purport of this article.

A year ago the estimates of the naval general staff were being discussed in the State Duma. A heated dispute arose as to whether the confirmation of these estimates was subject to the jurisdiction of the State Duma or not. The Rights (the Black Hundred) said no, maintaining that the Duma had no right to interfere, that it could not dare encroach upon the prerogatives of the “imperial leader” of the armed forces, i.e., the tsar, who alone, independent of any Duma, had the right to endorse the army and navy estimates.

The Octobrists, Cadets and Lefts maintained that this was the prerogative of the Duma. Consequently, it was a question of the Black Hundreds headed by Nicholas H wanting to interpret restrictively the rights of the Duma, wanting to curtail the prerogatives of the Duma which had already been curtailed to an incredible extent. The Black-Hundred landlords and, at their head, the richest and blackest reactionary landlord, Nicholas Romanov, made a particular minor question into a question of principle, a question of the prerogatives of the tsar, the prerogatives of the autocracy, accusing the bourgeoisie (and even the Octobrist bourgeoisie) of trying to curtail the prerogatives of the tsar, to limit his power, “to separate the leader of the army from the army”, and so on.

Whether the power of the tsar should be interpreted as absolutely unlimited autocracy, quite in the old way, or as power with a most modest limitation—such was the point of the dispute. And this dispute swelled a year ago almost to the dimensions of a “political crisis”, i.e., threats to kick out Stolypin whom the Black Hundreds accused of “constitutionalism”, threats to dissolve the Duma of the Octobrists, whom the Black Hundreds called “Young Turks”.[2]

Both the Duma and the Council of State approved the estimates of the naval general staff, i.e., they regarded the question as coming under their jurisdiction. Everyone waited to see whether Nicholas II would endorse the decision of the Duma and the Council of State. On April 27, 1909, Nicholas II issued a rescript to Stolypin refusing to endorse the estimates and charging the ministers to draw up “regulations” on the application of Article 96.

In other words, the tsar for the hundredth time openly and definitely took the side of the Black Hundreds and resisted the slightest attempts to limit his power. His instruction to the ministers to draw up new regulations was a bare-faced order to violate the law, to interpret it in such a way that nothing would be left of it, to “interpret” it in the style of the notorious Russian senatorial “interpretations”. Of course it was specified that the regulations should remain “within the limits of the fundamental laws”, but these words were the most obvious hypocrisy. The ministers drew up such “regulations”—and Nicholas II approved them (they are called the regulations of August 24, 1909, from the date of their confirmation)—that the law was circumvented! By the interpretation of the “regulations” endorsed without the Duma, Article 96 of the fundamental laws was reduced to nullity! By these regulations the estimates of the army and navy were taken out of the jurisdiction of the Duma.

The result was a splendid exposure of the flimsiness of the Russian “constitution”, the brazenness of the Black Hundreds, the partiality of the tsar towards the Black Hundreds, the flouting of the fundamental laws by the autocracy. Of course, the illustration of this theme provided by the coup of June 3, 1907, was a hundred times more conspicuous, complete, intelligible and obvious to the broad masses of the people. Of course, if our Social-Democrats in the Duma were unable to make an interpellation on the violation of the fundamental laws by the Act of June 3 this was only because the bourgeois democrats including the Trudoviks did not provide enough signatures to make up the thirty names necessary for an interpellation—it only goes to show how limited is the specifically Duma form of propaganda and agitation. But the fact that it was impossible to make an interpellation on the Act of June 3 did not prevent the Social-Democrats in their speeches from constantly characterising this Act as a coup d’état. And, as a matter of course, even on a comparatively minor issue the Social-Democrats could not and should not leave unexposed the manner in which the autocracy was flouting the fundamental laws and the rights of the popular representative assembly.

The comparative unimportance, pettiness and insignificance of a question like the estimates of the naval general staff, on the other hand, very sharply emphasised the hyper sensitiveness of our counter-revolutionaries, their nervousness about the army. In his second speech on March 26, Mr. Shubinskoi, the Octobrist spokesman in the Duma, made a most definite turn towards the Black Hundreds, revealing that it was just their nervousness about the army that made the counter-revolutionaries so extremely sensitive about permitting the slightest interference of representative bodies in the approval of the military and naval estimates. The name of the Imperial Leader of the Russian Army is truly a great name”... cried the bourgeois lackey of Nicholas the Bloody. “...Whatever assertions you [the members of the State Duma] make here, whatever you say about there being a desire to deprive someone of rights, you will not deprive the army of its Imperial Leader.”

And in his “declaration” of March 31, in which he did his best to confuse his reply with quite empty, meaningless and patently false speeches about “appeasement” and alleged abatement of repressions, Stolypin came out nevertheless quite definitely on the side of the Black Hundreds against the prerogatives of the Duma. If the Octobrists proved to be in agreement with Stolypin, this is nothing new. But if Rech of Milyukov and Co. calls Stolypin’s reply “if any thing, conciliatory as regards the prerogatives of the Duma” (No. 89, April 1—editorial after the leading article) we have before us just one more example of how low the Cadet Party has fallen. “The history of, recent years shows,” said Stolypin, “that the blight of revolution could not undermine our army....” Could not undermine—this is a misstatement of facts, for the generally known events of the soldiers’ and sailors’ mutinies in 1905–06, the generally known opinions expressed by the reactionary press at that time, show that the revolution was undermining and, consequently, could undermine the army. It did not completely undermine the army, that is true. But if at the height of the counter-revolution of 1910, several years after the last outbreak of “unrest” among the troops, Stolypin says (in the same declaration) that he was “possessed by an alarming thought when he listened to several of the previous speakers”, that this “alarming thought” consisted in an “uneasy impression of some sort of discord among different state elements in their attitude to our armed forces”, this gives Stolypin away completely and the whole Black-Hundred gang at Nicholas II’s Court together with him! It proves that the tsar and his gang not only continue to be nervous but are still in downright trepidation about the army. This proves that the counter-revolution is still holding fast to the stand point of civil war, the standpoint that the suppression of the popular indignation by military means is an immediate and urgent need. Just consider the following phrases of Stolypin’s:

“History ... teaches that an army falls into disorder when it ceases to be united in submission to a single sacred will. Insert into this principle the poison of doubt, instil in the army even only fragments of the idea that its organisation depends on collective will and its power will no longer rest on an immutable force—supreme power.” And in another passage: “I know, many wanted ... to excite disputes ruinous to our army, concerning prerogatives” (namely, the prerogatives of the Duma, the prerogatives of “collective will”).

Just as murderers are haunted by the ghosts of their victims, so do the heroes of the counter-revolution recollect the “ruinous” influence of “collective will” on the army. Stolypin, as a true servant of the Black Hundreds, sees in every Octobrist a “Young Turk” working for the “disorganisation of the army” by making it subordinate to collective will, by permitting “fragments of the idea” about such subordination!

The executioners and assassins of the June 3 monarchy must be suffering from hallucinations, they must have gone clean out of their minds if they take the Octobrists for Young Turks. But these delirious fancies, these extravagancies of the mind are a political malady engendered by a feeling of the insecurity of their position and by acute nervousness about the army. If these gentry, the Stolypins, Romanovs and Co. were able to view with the slightest degree of composure the question of the relation of “collective will” to the army they would see at once that if the tsar had tacitly approved the decisions of the Duma and the Council of State on the naval estimates this would have been ten times less noticeable to the army than Duma debates on the question of the prerogatives of the Duma, the question of the possible “disorganisation of the army”. But it is characteristic of our counter-revolution that it gives itself away by its fears. It is no more able to consider the question of the disorganisation of the army calmly than a murderer can listen calmly to talk about the participants and circumstances of the murder he has committed.

The principles involved in the comparatively small and unimportant question of the naval estimates have been brought out by the Black Hundreds, by Nicholas II, and by Mr. Stolypin, so that it only remains for us to express our satisfaction at their clumsiness due to their fears. It only remains for us to take Comrade Pokrovsky’s excellent statements about the ending of “constitutional illusions”, about the need for the people themselves to draw the conclusions from the undoubtedly “black reality” and compare them with the admirably outspoken views in Moskovskiye Vedomosti concerning the “declaration of March 31”.

In the leading article of April 3 this newspaper declares:

“The matter itself, as we already explained last year, is very simple. His Imperial Majesty did not confirm the estimates when passed through legislative channels, but established them by an act of supreme government for which even the existing law (apart from the natural rights of the supreme authority) grants clear powers”....

So. So. The “natural right” of the Russian monarchy to violate the fundamental laws. That is the whole point.

“... The Duma opposition, however, had the impertinence to make this the occasion for an interpellation which questioned the actions of the supreme authority.”

Exactly! Moskovskiye Vedomosti makes properly explicit what the Social-Democrats in the Duma could not. The point of the interpellation was to pronounce the actions of the tsar (and of Stolypin, the minister under him) a violation of the fundamental laws.

Further, Moskovskiye Vedomosti attacks the “revolutionary opposition” and the “revolutionary press” for their theory of conquest of popular rights by means of a revolution and denies that there could be any “promises” whatsoever in the “declaration of March 31”.

“The very talk about ‘promises’ is ludicrous and shows to what extent the revolution has befogged the minds even of persons not officially belonging to the revolutionary camp. What ‘promises’ can the cabinet give?” “... The cabinet will carry out its lawful duties, true to the leadership of the supreme authority.... And we can only hope that this declaration will be understood more profoundly by the Duma in all its implications and thereby help to cure the honourable members from the chronic infection of revolutionary ‘directives’.”

Precisely so: more profoundly to understand the declaration (and attitude) of the government, and through it to “cure” the constitutional illusions—it is in this that lies the political lesson of the Social-Democratic interpellation on the violation of Article 96.

  1. The Council of State—one of the supreme state bodies in pre-revolutionary Russia. It was set up in 1810 according to the plan of M. M. Speransky as a legislative consultative institution, the members of which were appointed and endorsed by the tsar. By the law of February 20 (March 5), 1906, the Council of State was reorganised and given the right to confirm or reject Bills after their discussion in the Duma. However, the right to alter fundamental laws and to promulgate a number of particularly important laws remained a prerogative of the tsar.
    From 1906 half of the members of the Council of State consisted of elected representatives of the nobility, clergy and big bourgeoisie, and half of the councillors were appointed by the tsar. In consequence, the Council of State was an ultra-reactionary body, which rejected even moderate Bills adopted by the Duma.
  2. Young Turks—the political organisation of the Turkish bourgeoisie, founded in 1894. It sought to limit the absolute power of the Sultan and to convert the feudal empire into a bourgeois constitutional-monarchical state. In 1908 it headed the revolution which made Turkey a constitutional monarchy and became the governing party: It declared itself dissolved after Turkey’s military defeat in the Firsts World War (in the autumn of 1918).